Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Canyon So Grand

April means "Spring Break" for the kids and this year Kim and I decided to get ahead of the curve and actually plan a family vacation. Naturally the RV and the dogs would figure into things, but where? We finally decided on visiting the Grand Canyon, only one of the 7 natural wonders of the modern world.

Since I would be coming off a long trip and little restful sleep I elected to only log about 2/3rds of the RV travel in the first day, settling on the Kingman KOA campground as our first destination (about 7 hours out of SD). It was a nice enough place, and the kids dug the free mini-golf course! I naturally gravitated to the dude with the BMW F650GS who had ridden down to the Colorado River via the Grand Canyon the day before. What stories! I can't wait to do the same on the F800GS.

Our next stop was Williams, AZ, home of the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park where we would spend the next several days. The RV Park has a dog kennel where River and Bella would spend 1 1/2 days while the two-legged creatures went to the Canyon via train. The train was really a special draw in planning the trip and my good friend Rod Baine inspired me to organize our vacation to include this facet.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Did I mention the wind chill factor made this an especially COLD trip? Definitely colder than Monterey! Still, I figured once we were on the train, it would be somewhat warm, and there would be warm places at the Canyon. How wrong was I? Very!

Prior to getting on the train, which has a "Club Car" serving food and drink, we were entertained by a Wild West show replete with gun fights and then a full-service train ride: conductor checking tickets, entertainment, beautiful countryside, and a guide sharing history of the train and the country in real time for us. What a nice treat! (I don't think the kids really appreciated though!).

As we got closer to the Canyon, it looked colder and it was colder. We were met with a blast of cold wind chill as we climbed the 47 steps to the Rim Trail to the South Rim. Oh My God: The Grand Canyon. I'd never seen it before. Stunning. Breath-taking. Dramatic.

Did I mention is was cold? We walked the Rim, and even stumbled into Robin and Curtis Mueller who were up from Sedona checking out the Canyon. What a coincidence!

The train folks had dropped off our bags at the Maswick Lodge - a nice old-school service - and we checked in around 4pm. The kids and I immediately took to the forest, while Kim took to a short 20-minute nap on the bed; we both got what we wanted!

That night, we elected to have a bitchin' dinner at the "Arizona Inn," though a 90-minute wait was the "ante" to the game. I spent my time in bitter night-time cold with Etho taking pictures, while the gals enjoyed a drink and coloring books in the wonderful warmth of a sitting room. Dinner was superb; strongly recommended!

Earlier in the day, I'd asked a driver who plies shuttles along the South Rim where the most picturesque place was to shoot a sunrise. He replied w/o hesitation that it was "Yaki Point" and proceeded to tell me the combination of free shuttles to ride to get there the next morning. First bus: 4:38am. ;-)

I made the first bus with frozen sleep "goop" in my eyes, transferred to another bus and finally watched in silence as the red taillights of the vehicle sped out of eyesight. I'd arrived at Yaki Point, but only to snow flurries and deep, low cloud cover. A couple of shots and, frankly, I was freezing my a** off. Caught the next bus out at approximately the time the Sun was to peak out - far cry from that!

After catching a few more "winks" with the family (I was back by 7am and everyone was still asleep), we enjoyed breakfast at the Maswick Lodge buffet and geared up for a family hike down into the Canyon via Bright Angel Trail. What a great decision!! Walking 90 minutes into the Canyon whets one's appetite to see more - at least that was the effect it had on Etho and I. The girls turned around at about 45 minutes (after all, Emily IS only 6 and staring straight back up the trail wide-eyed!), but the boys had other urges. I can see the two of us doing this in the next year or so. Love to do it by rafting! ;-)

Properly tired out, we all had a drink at El Tovar (the pre-eminent lodge on the Rim) and boarded the Grand Canyon Railway for a late train home. There was a violin player and a mock train robbery, which the kids were wide-eyed about. I just wanted to get my dogs and sleep in the RV again - long day for us "sunrisers." ;-)

Our trip continued with a very cool hike, complete with multiple stream-crossings on the West Fork trail suggested by my niece Kim Austin (of Flagstaff), a quick visit to Sedona, and dinner at the Austins. Fun way to wrap up the last night of vacation!

Kim explained that her dad (my step-brother-in-law) Pat was having a birthday the next day and it didn't take much convincing for me to re-route our return drive through Yuma (Pat's home) rather than back through Kingman. Pat was genuinely glad to see us I think.

The kids were genuinely glad to ride around the yard in his cool go-kart. Get this - ask the kids what they remember most about their bitchin' trip to the Grand Canyon and I guarantee it will be the go-kart - ARRGHH!

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